BloomReach Tech Partners on Commerce in the Experience Era
At BloomReach Connect 2018, the Experience Era was the heartbeat of every conversation. What it means to brands, what it means to customers and what it means to the vendors who are supplying these brands with the technology to provide an optimal experience for their customers.
During the opening keynote, when BloomReach CEO Raj De Datta was discussing the inception of the BloomReach platform, he emphasized that it was started with a focus on commerce providers and in the near decade BloomReach has been in the market, they have created some magnificent partnerships with a handful of what Raj De Datta refers to as “some of the best, modern commerce platforms.” He went on to explain that in the same way marketing automation, order management, inventory, A/B testing and even search systems are plugged into their platform as experiential elements, you can plug commerce into the platform as well.
While at the event, I was fortunate to speak with two of those commerce technology partners, Darin Archer, CMO at Elastic Path and Jon Feldman, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Skava. Their interviews are below.
Darin Archer, CMO at Elastic Path
Back in May, we covered the announcement of Darin joining the team over at Elastic Path as their new CMO and were very excited to get the chance to talk to him in person at this event. In knowing that Darin has been described as "the original champion of experience-driven commerce" by Elastic Path CEO Harry Chemko and in talking with him at an event where BloomReach CEO Raj De Datta made the statement that “experience is the thing”, I knew our conversation had to focus around experiential commerce and what that looked like now and into the future.
To start, I wanted to hear Darin’s thoughts on their latest partnership announcement with BloomReach in support of their recent release of DXP for Commerce. As he explains it, they're combined in working to bring the disparate pieces of experience, content, and commerce together to better optimize the buyer's journey. “It’s been exciting to collaborate with BloomReach. I think one of the things we’ve all been struggling with, whether we’re a brand, manufacturer, distributors or retailers is, we know that we have these big stories that we tell and all this content that goes into that but then marrying that with the transaction capabilities, so you know that you can actually enable someone to buy at that point of inflection.”
He also acknowledges the intelligence BloomReach brings in their rare understanding that, as the demand for experiential commerce rises, those in control should be able to work smarter, not harder. “BloomReach is doing something unique in that they recognize that needs to be done easier but more importantly, that they need to enable their merchandisers and marketers to not have to work so hard for the commerce piece." Elastic Path additionally supports this by “collaborating with them to bring a lot of that insight about the customer so we can get past this era where you see the advertisement for something you already bought. Bring that into their tools so then as they personalize experiences, it's relevant, its relevant content."
Along those same lines of personalization, we might all think we have personalization locked down but as Darin expresses in the interview, he feels the pain of brands in that it’s still really hard to do, especially at scale given the constraints of budget and personnel. “I remember a long time ago where we actually were just trying to do simple A/B testing and do some optimization on the home screen and we had a little small team and you have to staff this team like a whole scrum team with an analyst, and copy editor and someone that does design and photographer or you’re going to the agency just to get a hero banner created, and then you want 15 permutations of this, the team is just worn out or you have to have tons of these people.” The reason to put in that work it is clear though, as he explained the team was able to see “that for every dollar spent on this team, $3,000 was made” but even then, is that enough convince the executive team to offer up the appropriate resources?
This further illustrates the point that the way BloomReach is approaching the market and enabling workflow will be key. “As a technologist, and part of this industry, we’ve had the tools to do this for a long time. Where we broke down was, how do we do this at scale meaning, without an army of marketing personnel? So I think where we’re finally getting to with, you know you move past the buzz of AI and you really focus in on the way BloomReach just gets down to business with ‘we have algorithms, they just start to help do that for you' whether it's creating some of that copy, checking image assets, starting to just assemble this and decreasing that headcount, I think it's got the potential but yeah, personalization right now, so hard to do."
As my final question for Darin, I was excited to ask what he thinks brands are still really underestimating when it comes to the future of commerce. He made the point that even though we’re in the experience era as Raj De Datta mentions, Darin thinks "as marketers, we're still too obsessed with the website and we're not thinking through the total customer experience." Now some might think the notion of the customer experience in commerce is well-established but Darin feels it should be taken even further. “I think we’ve got to really recognize that the commerce has got to be woven in, literally stitched into the fabric of the experience and we have to get past the website as the experience to think about where is our customer? How am I interacting with them? And am I creating that?”
Jon Feldman, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Skava
In my interview with Jon, I wanted to start with hearing his thoughts on where he thinks the most significant challenges remain for brands in delivering a consistent experience? Jon explains we need to look no further than the rapid pace of change in the retail market to understand why keeping up with experience expectations can be so hard for brands. As he puts it, customers’ “expectations are set by their last greatest experience. So when a retailer with some other store has that expectation higher than what you’re delivering, you’re going to fall behind when that customer comes and visits you.”
This ever-rising standard in customer experience is also showing a way in which retail is different from many other areas in business. Historically, it’s the newer entries into a business market that tend to struggle in the shadow of the incumbent entities but in retail, that’s not the case and it’s the established brands we see struggle more often than not. Jon brought up that, concerning the current state of customer experience, “it’s a big challenge and frankly, one I think is harder for more established retailers because they have to keep evolving which is already a significant eCommerce process to accommodate those new experiences and make them exciting and compelling.”
With Skava having been featured in the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce I knew Jon would have an interesting perspective to bring but interestingly enough, a similar notion of the new disrupting the old came up when I asked Jon to discuss the commerce technology space as he saw it, given his perspective as a featured vendor in the report. “What I see when I look at that quadrant is some interesting disruption because companies like the one I work for, Skava, and some of the other newer architected commerce things are beginning to move up. Gartner puts a lot of weight on IBM, Oracle, and Demandware, some of the more established players so we’re really excited to start moving up in that direction and to really start establishing some thought leadership.”
Within the commerce technology market there is also a notion that as the newer vendors rise, there will be more of a consolidation than a dethroning so to speak, as the more acquisitive platforms sitting at the top of lists like the Magic Quadrant simply acquire the newer, more modern technology providers versus competing with them. I mentioned this to Jon and asked if this was the case or would the leaner, more agile companies be able to win by their advantage over their larger, less nimble established competitors. “Well for sure and a lot of the leaders in the space are part of larger companies so Adobe also bought Magento, so if you’re a Magento customer you have to ask yourself, do I want to be all in with Adobe because now we’re integrated or, if you are an Oracle customer and you have ATG commerce but you don't want to go with all the Oracle stuff. It's an interesting time in the market because you have consolidation at the top and a lot of disruption at the bottom.”
As a marketer, I know I can't be the only one who thinks of the quote by Tom Fishburne, "the best marketing doesn't feel like marketing" when hearing from Darin that the future of commerce should look much the same and be simply woven into the fabric of the experience.
Which then brings to mind the point Jon made on how the standard for a customer's experience is set by their previous best experience, showing that brands need to be far more proactive than reactive in strategizing that experience.
It definitely puts the pressure on but given BloomReach's nature in understanding how to best serve those in charge of the creation of a customer experiences within organizations and make their lives easier in delivering it, brands can rest assured they'll have more friends than foes when it comes to digital experience and commerce technology.